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Sick of Lawsuits Update
April 2008

"Tort costs profoundly shape a state's economic climate, and when the costs spiral out of control, businesses and citizens suffer or they move away."

John Engler, Former Governor of Michigan and President of the National Association of Manufacturers


In the News

The Worst Places To Get Sued In America

"By the time most law students have finished the first year of law school, they've had the responses 'yes' and 'no' surgically excised from their thoughts and replaced by the signature American legalism—'it depends.' And it does. Any attorney worth his salt knows a client's fate frequently depends on the location of the courthouse deciding it. Horse thieves never fared well in frontier courts, but outlaws like Billy the Kid did. Even now, the worst place for an oil company to get sued is not necessarily the worst place for an investment bank. Still, defense attorneys largely agree that a few locales are worst-case-scenario venues. 'There is a high degree of stability in what most people think are the most problematic places to get sued,' said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of The Rule of Lawyers. 'If you put pins on a map for the top 50 most outrageous verdicts, bizarre run-away juries and so forth, you would find this belt around the Gulf Coast that runs from southern Texas across Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. These are also some of the places people consider the worst places to get sued.'" Forbes, April 7, 2008. Read More>>

Trial Lawyers: No Alibi for Greed

"Several of the richest and most powerful plaintiffs' attorneys in America may soon be shuffling off to federal prison - further tarnishing the negative image surrounding trial lawyers. Class-action tort king Melvyn I. Weiss pleaded guilty last week to federal criminal charges related to his role in a scheme to give kickbacks to plaintiffs in lawsuits filed by his firm, Milberg Weiss. One of Weiss' former partners, William S. Lerach, was sentenced last month to two years in prison after pleading guilty to his role in the scheme. Then this bombshell hit: Richard F. 'Dickie' Scruggs pleaded guilty March 14 to trying to bribe a judge in Mississippi. Scruggs burnished his reputation as one of the most feared lawyers in the country after taking on Big Tobacco and reaching a $206 billion settlement in 1998 on behalf of 46 states. The case was the subject of the movie The Insider. In the world of trial lawyers, the trio of convictions was like finding out that Ruth, Gehrig and Mays took steroids and fixed baseball games." Philadelphia Inquirer, March 27, 2008. Read More>>

Small Victories for Tort Reform

"Foes of lawsuit abuse have been writing gleefully about the fall of Dickie Scruggs, Bill Lerach and Melvyn Weiss. All three lawyers are likely to spend time in jail for plotting to bribe a judge (Scruggs) or paying kickbacks (Lerach and Weiss). Good riddance. Locking them up will stop them from further damaging America – at least for a few years. But it's a small victory for reformers. New members of the parasite circus will just step forward to take their place. And what these aggressive class-action and securities lawyers do legally is more damaging to America than the crimes that Scruggs, Lerach and Weiss committed. They broke laws to cheat other lawyers out of some loot, but at least that barely hurt the public. […] America needs judges willing to say 'no' to legal bullies. America also needs the legal standard that works in most of the world: 'loser pays.' Without reform, the parasites will take away your money and your choices." Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2008. Read More>>

Wisconsin's Judicial Revolution

"On Tuesday, for the first time in over four decades, Wisconsin voters turned out an incumbent justice of their state supreme court. The election showed that, given a clear choice, voters usually prefer a judicial conservative to one with an activist bent. The Wisconsin Supreme Court certainly bent the rule of law over the past four years, as a 4-3 liberal majority became the nation's premier trailblazer in overturning its own precedents and abandoning deference to the legislature's policy choices. Thus the defeat of Justice Louis Butler at the hands of Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman has national implications. A recent study in the University of California-Davis Law Review found that Wisconsin is the eighth most-cited state supreme court by other judicial bodies. Its rulings play a larger role in shaping court decisions elsewhere than those of courts in states such as New York, Florida or Texas. In addition, 38 states elect all or part of their appellate-level judges by popular vote. Judge Butler's defeat sends a signal that a judge who dramatically oversteps traditional boundaries can be brought to account." Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2008. Read More>>

Recent Sick of Lawsuits Activities

Texas Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups recently held a press conference exposing personal injury lawyers who use misleading Web sites masked as medical information sources to frighten consumers into suing. During the event, which was held at the state Capitol, the CALAs called attention to a recent study by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), which found that patients who look for health information online are often bombarded by personal injury lawyer Web sites. These sensationalized Web sites are designed to attract new clients, but they sometimes scare patients off of their prescribed medications. "Basing medical decisions on propaganda and fear pushed by personal injury lawyers could have a devastating result on a patient's health," said Dr. Evelyn Tobias Merrill, a Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse board member and spokesperson for the national Sick of Lawsuits campaign. "Doctors, not lawyers, are the best source for health information." Bobby Jenkins, chairman of Central Texas CALA, said that calling out personal injury lawyers for aggressive tactics is not new for the Texas CALAs. "But now we are finding that these tactics have spread to the Internet. This is a danger, as roughly eight million Americans search for health information online every day." The news conference generated coverage on local NBC affiliate KXAN-TV, News 8 Austin, a radio statewide radio news service, and the Southeast Texas Record. Read More>>

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse let voters know "the joke is on you," this April Fools Day.  Using an online survey, citizens were invited to vote on the most ridiculous lawsuits in West Virginia, highlighting the abuse of courts in the state.  While the April Fools survey was developed in good fun, it also holds a deeper purpose – elevating awareness around lawsuit abuse to garner support for legal reform.  The West Virginia Record published an article on the survey.  Read More>>

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) Executive Director Travis Akin has been engaging the I-LAW grassroots network and talking with the media in an effort to increase public awareness of HB 5289 – a venue reform bill that would help prevent personal injury lawyers from bringing out-of-state lawsuits to Illinois's "hellhole" districts in the hope of more winning bigger awards and settlement. Newspapers around the state have published Akin's opinion piece advocating for venue reform to improve Illinois courts. Read More>>

Florida Stop Lawsuit Abuse (FSLA) is highlighting the impact of lawsuit abuse in the Florida, which has been ranked the worst "judicial hellhole" in the country by the American Tort Reform Association, and dead last for its liability climate by the Pacific Research Institute. FSLA Executive Director Carlos Muhletaler has been published in several news publications in Florida calling attention to the ways lawsuit abuse hurts patients and consumers, and demanding action from the legislature.

Legislative Update

The California legislature is currently considering Assembly Bill 2690, which would lead to additional liability for pharmaceutical manufacturers in warning patients of risks and side effects of products. This responsibility is currently placed with doctors or other health professionals who actually interact with patients, realizing that pharmaceutical companies should not be held responsible for doctor-patient decisions in which they are not involved. CALA groups in California have submitted letters of opposition and reached out to supporters and partners to do the same.

The Mississippi Legislature is considering "sunshine" legislation to increase accountability in the Attorney General's office, specifically concerning hiring private lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of the state. Senate Bill 2188 would ensure that all attorney general contracts with private lawyers are handled in an open, transparent manner, assuring voters of proper conduct in the AG's office. This bill, along with a weaker House bill, are before a conference committee.

The West Virginia Legislature rejected two bills that would have reined in Attorney General Darrell McGraw, opting instead to refer the issue to voters in November.  These meaningful bills would have helped to ensure that lawsuit settlement funds go back to the state, and added transparency to contracts with private attorneys, many of whom have been major contributors to McGraw's campaign.  WV CALA will continue to beat the drum on these needed reforms and mobilize voters to get the job done in November.

The Florida State Legislature is considering House Bill 645 and Senate Bill 1448 to increase standards around "expert witness" testimony. The proposed law would help weed out fraudulent testimony and junk science – usually brought by paid, out of state witnesses – in Florida's courtrooms. Florida Stop Lawsuit Abuse has been active in calling on legislators to pass this important bill.

The Stats

152,000: The estimated number of new jobs that would be added in California with just one additional tort law reform. Pacific Research Institute’s U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report, 2008.

$1,125: The average increase in output per worker each year in states that curb excessive liability levels.  Pacific Research Institute’s U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report, 2008.

$0.46: Amount per dollar that injured plaintiffs receive through settlements or jury verdicts. The rest covers claimants' attorney's fees, court administrative costs and defense costs. New England Journal of Medicine, May 2006.

$589 billion: The amount that would be saved if the U.S. enacted legal reforms that cut direct tort costs to 1% of GDP and eliminated indirect tort costs, like defensive medicine and lost innovation. Pacific Research Institute’s U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report, 2008.

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www.Sickoflawsuits.org is a nonpartisan, grassroots campaign to educate the public about the negative impact of lawsuit abuse, empower consumers to take action against these abuses, and challenge those who profit from abusing our legal system.

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